Oh hello there little friends.
This review has been a long time in coming, mostly because, I’m terrible with reading, and also because, it’s taken me a long time to actually understand what it is I’ve wanted to say about this book.
Since the beginning is a very appropriate place start (In the words of James St. James…), I want to tell you about how I came to know J Daniel Stone. When DrunkInAGraveyard.com was new, and I was pretty fresh into my new hobby of writing about all the things I’d spent the last few years of my life talking about anyways, I somehow ended up writing for a horror blog that wasn’t DIAG.
The blog was poorly run, and unfortunately run with the idea to make money – NEWSFLASH: no one cares about what you think about XYZ movie, especially XYZ horror movie, and if they do care what you think, they probably don’t have money to pay you for your opinions. Now, before this gets into a rant, and before you all start e-mailing me poorly worded diatribes about the value of blah blah blah.. I will quote quite famously from Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back in words spoken by Holden McNeil- “The Internet has given everybody in America a voice. For some reason, everybody decides to use that voice to bitch about movies.”
However, like with most things in life that are not looked back on with any form of fondness, my experience writing for that particular blog offered me something more valuable than money. It allowed me to meet our very own staff writer JohnnyZontal, and it allowed the chance to meet J Daniel Stone. J’s first book “The Absence of Light” was one of the first books I’d ever reviewed, and we were able to save the review and reupload it to DIAG, though the review was not originally written for our site.
If you’re familiar with mine and J’s twittering back and forth, you will know that J and I joke very often about being brother and sister. In many ways, we almost are. I think this also has contributed to how difficult it is for me to write a proper review of Blood Kiss. How do you properly put into words that someone is singing in their voice and it sounds remarkably like yours? How do you say that you really ‘get’ this writing, but get it on more than just an understanding level. How do you say, that this writing ‘gets’ you?
It’s incredibly hard, and it’s been on my mind for the past few months, but I think I’ve finally figure out how. So please, join me as we dive into Blood Kiss by J Daniel Stone. I’ve used some photographs that I took of J’s book, as well as items that “go” with it. I have used a syringe filled with “fake heroin”, so keep in mind, it’s not real.
If you read the book, you’ll see why I have included these objects.
The lead character in Blood Kiss is a young man named Dorian Wilde (if you can’t get this one, I’m not explaining it), and Dorian is a rather hateful skeleton of a man who bumps coke, guzzles craft beer, and paints. His twisted reality is laid onto canvas made real by his underpainting of rage and rejection. in short, He’s a misanthropic wretch. But, combined with the business acumen of his manager and lover Leland, Dorian is able to make something of a living off his tortured work.
There’s a lot of self hate and world hate carried by Dorian. He speaks in almost never ending soliloquy, “I’m queer and outspoken, misguided and disconnected. I don’t want a perfect life or a perfect wife. I just want to live.” – pg. 7
At points, his never ending ranting and self persecution reminds me of Milton’s Paradise Lost, the grand speeches and delusions of Satan, and I’m sure that Dorian would take this as a compliment, and in a way, it’s not.
Dorian is very much adrift in his own self concept. He sees the world as an outsider looking in, and rails against the gentrification of his neighborhoods, the dive bars turned into hipster hot spots, the hovels and the rot turned into craft breweries and tapas bars. He fails almost completely to see that his own culture, is also a part of the decay, that someone somewhere bemoans his existence just as much as he bemoans theirs. He’s self centered, in the ways that we all can be. I think this is what made him real, and also made him so entirely hateable. Haven’t you ever known that person in your friendgroup who talks to hear the sound of their voice, so assured of their importance in this world? We all have.
There’s a line in Jack Off Jill song that I like, “your junkie ego, won’t save you this time”, and I want to make plain that Dorian embodies the junkie ego perfectly, because the world is all about him, because it is his world. He lacks the ability to see beyond himself, and in a way he’s quite arrogant. He would be entirely dismissible if he wasn’t so broken and sensitive. Portions of the book flash back to the earliest rejection experience of Dorian, being kicked out of his home at an early age, for being gay.
I know many people who have been excised from the so-called normal family existence in this manner, and the scars that this experience leaves are always fresh, and often fly-blown wounds that never seem to heal. This is what makes Dorian real to me. His trauma bucket has been full for a very long time with the black viscous goo of rejection of the most primal variety. Needing support in such a critical time and having it be denied has shaped who Dorian Wilde is.
Theres a lot of J within the character of Dorian. I suppose that goes along with the whole concept of writing what you know. If you know trauma, why write about the happiness you have not experienced?
J also writes from the point of view of Tyria, a spoken word poet who is just as broken as Dorian, and who uses her voice to create magick and illusion made real. She’s written in a way that is reminiscent of Otep Shamaya, with that raw power and rage but not void of ugliness. She also reminds me a little of Tairrie B from My Ruin (and I feel old now, so that’s a thing that happened in time and space).
J is able to craft really potent descriptions of characters – like this one of Tyria’s partner Adelaide:
“Tyria saw black hair draped across lips as red as candy apple syrup. It was as if someone had drawn the girl with sidewalk chalk and then stuck a bad Halloween wig on her head. She was the most intriguing human that Tyria had ever seen, her eyes so black it reminded Tyria of Dario Argento’s ‘Jenifer’.” – pg. 11
I take this as further evidence that J and I really understand each other – how many times have I looked at the beautiful goth girls with the angular features and cartoon anime girl hair and called them “Fright wigs”? Too many. I still do this.
I like the descriptions of the art that Dorian creates, it reminds of prints of Clive Barker’s art. I have a particularly nasty print hung in my bathroom that reminds me that horror is real everyday while I am pissing. It’s quite wonderful.
I like the reality that comes with the sexuality and sexual identity of the characters. Dorian begins the book as militantly gay, and rather than showcasing romantic encounters with his lover Leland, the encounters are almost grotesque, boiled down from any romance is simply physiology, rot. The encounters are not sexy, but rather, a gross pantomime of sexuality, a function served only for orgasm. This manner of writing reminds me a little of Poppy Z. Brite’s homoerotic fiction, particularly in the book Lost Souls where sexual encounters can be as foul as they are titillating.
It’s funny to mention this now, because in my review of J’s first book “The Absence of Light”, I mentioned that he writes quite similarly to Poppy Z. Brite, with that same grotesque style. I had also compared his writing to William S. Burroughs, and the comparison is still there, however, the style and flair with which J writes has morphed into higher end grotesquerie quite similar to Clive Barker. At points, I was thoroughly disgusted with what I was reading, the descriptions of homoerotic sodomy often rather offputting, and I write this as a queer person.
This is truly the part of J’s writing that has grown and become carefully improved – the ability to disgust. It’s rare for most artists and especially rare in writers. It’s even rarer for film makers. Clive Barker has always been able to disgust me, and now, J seems to take up that mantle quite easily. What’s important to mention, here as well, is that the disgust isn’t forced. It isn’t torture porn, or gore for the sake of gore. It’s carefully interwoven into descriptions and action, and it goes just as quickly as it came.
Tyria is complicated, and she’s complicated because I straight up didn’t like her. She reminded me of too many people I’ve known who have made being broken into their full time job. She’s exhausting and I often found myself choosing to read more passages about Dorian, who as hateful as he was, was at least confident. His arrogance became a welcome solace in the face of Tyria’s all consuming emotional turmoil.
This will be my only criticism of character, but Tyria seemed somewhat off to me. I can’t put my finger on why, and I can’t explain what part of me hated her. I hated how broken she was, how easily she slipped away from everyone else in the book, how self centered she was, and in a way that’s rather unfeminist of me, I was convinced of her trauma. While J wrote easily in the voice of Dorian – a gay male writing as a gay male, his voice seemed shakier when it came to writing the lesbian female sexual assault survivor. This isn’t to say that men are not able to write from the place of a person who has been the survivor of a sexual assault, but Tyria’s trauma seemed like something second hand rather than first hand, it didn’t draw me in to it, and I think because of this, she became somewhat boring.
I admired her poetry, of course – one poet to another. But she was ultimately so rage inducing. But perhaps that’s how she’s meant to be interpreted.
When Tyria and Dorian meet, their old habits are reignited in more ways than one. Like gasoline and fire, the relationship of Tyria and Dorian becomes a dumpster fire of massive proportions, and their swirling combination of hurt and rageful negative energy threatens to consume not only them but everyone around them as their art becomes something more than canvas and paint, ink and paper, or spoken words.
The whole book is written in very lush prose, the descriptions of scenes are real. Phil Anselmo’s voice plays in the background of scenes quite frequently, demonstrating J’s love for Housecore Records and his admiration of Phil – something that in this day and age is rather counterculture, since everyone wants to brand Phil as some variety of hatemonger. Spoiler alert – he isn’t. Fight me. And for that matter, fight J, too, while you’re at it.
I like it when authors put in these touches of who they are – it could be a favourite toy, an album playing in the background, a particular piece of furniture.. anything. It adds to what is being told and I always appreciate it.
J’s work is not surprisingly somewhat political – commentary going from the gentrification and white washing of big cities to things like HIV – “the celestial punishment for our sins” – pg. 258
But I like that it doesn’t stay too political and doesn’t venture out into anything more than a few comments. Theres enough politics in the world that we currently inhabit, and reading should be an escape into something else, even for a while. And this brings me to my next thought – for whom was this book written, and is it accessible?
Well, you can easily buy a copy, but is this a book for mass consumption – probably not. This is outsider fiction at it’s very finest, and certainly won’t be making any beach read white lady summer lists, but that’s okay, because it isn’t supposed to. Charles Bukowski wrote in his famous poem, “So You Want To Be A Writer” –
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked
out of your heart and your mind
and your mouth and your gut,
don’t do it.
I get the distinct sense that Blood Kiss was a catharsis, a release, a fucking cleansing. I get this sense because the book is exhausting to read, emotionally and otherwise. I have read it twice and both times have felt pensive, drained, and inspired.
I have also felt entirely grateful. Grateful because I have befriended the person who is responsible for this writing. Grateful because somewhere out there is someone under the same sky as me, writing words that deeply effect me. Somewhere out there, someone is writing words for others like me, like him, and like us. While this may not be a staff pick at a Chapters books, it would be an easy pick at an alternative bookshop, and should be.
I’m not going to spoil this book because I want you to buy it. It’s literally $12 on Amazon.com, $17 from Amazon.ca and even less if you have one of those fucking kindle things. I don’t know what that is or how to use it, please help me, I’m old as fuck.
“Blood Kiss” is put out by Villipede Press and we would like to extend to them a humble thank you for considering us for review, and for the kindness extended to DrunkInAGraveyard.com when we were much smaller and much stupider than we are now.